On the first day of this year, a blind woman in an Indian restaurant in Astoria, Oregon told me I had the cutest baby. She had a white cane and a service dog. I don’t use the word blind in an off-hand literary license sort of way. She was still dining as we paid and left and I gave her a quick, “have a wonderful day!” as we stood up and gathered bags and coats. But I wish I had said more. I wish I could have told her how much her comment meant to me. Ulysses is fourteen months old now and I think that was the first time a complete stranger made that kind of normal, casual baby compliment to me. I hadn’t noticed the absence until this exchange and then I realized how different it has been this go around. I started thinking of all the sad smiles I get now instead. And the embarrassed look-away glances. And certainly there have been kind outliers; but it’s generally a pitying, heartbroken kind of kindness. This lady probably didn’t notice Uly’s differences. But she said the regular words people say about babies to me. I had to tell myself not to cry. The most ordinary things can be extraordinarily important.
It does seem that people, worried about saying the wrong thing, hedge bets by saying nothing. Ulysses looks different from any baby most people have ever seen before. I understand that he surprises people. Do you want to know a secret? Sometimes I’m still surprised, too. It’s ok to be surprised. So, if you see a baby like Ulysses (and by ‘like Ulysses’ I mean, “different from other babies you’re accustomed to seeing”) I want you to know this: It’s ok to take a second to process. But then smile kindly. And if you bother to say regular boring old baby things, you are doing something more valuable and wonderful than you could ever know.
(pictures from our spontaneous NYE overnight to Astoria. I thought we needed to be somewhere else for the first day of the year. The sky was clear, the sun was brilliant and we climbed up a very tall tower and pretended we were on the top of the world. maybe we are, if we stand in the right spot. post title from the chorus of the The National’s Terrible Love, which I’m listening to as I type. High Violet is still one of my best albums for background music, if what I’m doing is quiet and thinky.)